Tuesday, February 23, 2016

6 yr old tantrums only at home

Hello,  I’m so very excited to find your blog and hopefully get your book on anger overload.  My 6 year old daughter seems to fit the tee with anger overload.  At 4 years old she lost her great grandpa and the short little outbursts began.  We took her to grief counseling and she seemed to adapt well.  Her kindergarten school year she started to show a mild bout of fits that we just chalked up to be tantrums for not getting her own way.  By that summer they were more and more, however not aggressive, and we opted to take her to a psychologist where she was diagnosed with severe anxiety.  

As of two weeks ago the rages are more frequent and very aggressive.  She will begin by growling at you and then her whole demeanor changes and she goes into a rage, hitting me, my husband and especially her 4 year old sister.  She tells everyone that she hates them and has even said she wished she were dead.  This rage lasts over two hours and we finally took her to the emergency room for help.  Once we arrived at the emergency room she quickly changed and was nice and polite and the doctors couldn’t believe that this sweet little girl was doing what she was doing at home.  

She also is very good at school, sports and anything else while in public.  No one on the outside would ever think that she could act in such a manner because she is always pleasant.  She has also stated that she doesn’t want anyone to know about this (her rage).  Her rages are so frequent that my 4 year old is becoming afraid, as we have to keep my 6 year old in an enclosed area during this as she strikes out at my 4 year old.  

My husband and I are at a lost on trying to help her.  Her psychologist discharged her only after 3 months of therapy saying she was fine.  We have been on a waiting list for another therapist for going on 2 years.  I need my other daughter to feel safe in our home and I don’t want this to affect the relationship between the 4 and 6 year old in years to come.  When she is in a rage, do we just let her follow us around yelling and screaming while not saying anything to her, we just don’t know what we are supposed to do when she is in these fits, and I feel we must be doing it wrong because they seem to go longer and longer. 

Thank you.

Hi, First let me say it is a good sign that your daughter controls her temper out of the house.  That shows she is capable of self control.  Then the question is why the tantrums are increasing at home.  I wonder why the psychologist said she had severe anxiety--what was the anxiety about?  

What I would do is chart the sequence of events leading up to a tantrum for the next two weeks. What is she doing, and what are the adults doing right before an outburst?  See if you find any patterns.  If you do, then you can alter the sequence or avoid a trigger (when possible).  I explain how to do this in my parent's manual.  You want to try to intervene early, if you can, to head off an outburst.   Another strategy I outline in my manual is emotional distraction.   If you catch her frustration early, you might be able to come up with a funny comment, or you might be able to interest her in something else.

However, once she explodes, it is usually not helpful to talk with her until she calms down.  You are doing the right thing by ignoring her the best you can.  She may be escalating to see if she can get you to react to her.  

I wonder if she is jealous of the four year old, as you mention she sometimes strikes out at her.  If you think this is happening, try to find ways you can admire your 6 year old for helping you or for helping her sister. Express how proud you are of her at these times.  Maybe she can help in the kitchen or help you carry something.  Praise her helpful or cooperative behaviors.   

Best, David Gottlieb, Ph.D.  

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